We Are All In This Together

We continued our five-week journey through 1 Corinthians this week by looking at the fourth chapter in its entirety.  One of the things I love about doing scripture-based sermon series (as opposed to theme-based, which is what we did in Advent and over the summer) is that I really don’t know, from week to week, where my sermon is going to go.  Sometimes it is dictated by what is going on throughout the week and, in the case of this sermon, that was what happened.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 26, 2020

1 Corinthians 4

We Are All In This Together

One of the best things that I have every done to, kind of, deal with my “control issues” (which, for the record, I would call “attention to detail” but I can see where others draw a different conclusion) is to have a child.  And I am not just talking about the parenting side of things, either, I am talking about the work-balance side of things, as well.

The truth is, I was never really good at stepping away from my role at the church.  Even when I was on vacation, I would take phone calls and respond to text messages and occasionally scroll through my email and not let myself completely disconnect.

And I don’t say this as a way to humble brag or make myself a martyr for the cause, either.  While I do think part of this has to do with my “control issues,” an even bigger part of also has to do with the fact that I love this church so much; I love the community, I love the people and it does not always seem so much as a job for me as it is a way of life – for me and for my family.

Last week when we looked at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we talked about just how clear it is in his salutation how much Paul loves this church.  In this conversation, I could really resonate with Paul’s sentiments because they are similar to mine when I talk about our ministry here, at the church.  So I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul to found these churches and to work so closely with them and then have to leave to travel to a new place.

All this is to say, I have thought about this a lot over the past few weeks as I worked to secure my maternity leave coverage.

Here’s the thing – I will be away for ten weeks; and while I likely will have the best of intentions to touch base and try to stay connected because I really do love you all, there is a very good chance I will get distracted and not always follow through on those intentions.

And so it is important to me that, as a community, we are ready for me to step back in April.  The difference between now and when I went on maternity leave with Harrison is that our church has grown a little bit, we have more going on and I will be gone primarily during the program year and not just during the summer.

But, like my father always says, the show must go on.  I was thrilled to share with the Executive Board this week that a very good friend and colleague of mine has agreed to step in for me while I am away; she and I were part of the same clergy community of practice for eight years and she is very much looking forward to sharing in ministry with you all.  She will be filling in part time, so, to some extent, we will have to prioritize what we need from her.

On the one hand, it feels kind of strange to be stepping away, even if it is only for a short amount of time, but, on the other hand, I am actually a little excited to watch what this church does together, as a community, in my absence.

Like I said, I have been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of weeks, because not only have I been working out the details of my maternity leave coverage, but we are also now looking at 1 Corinthians, which is a letter Paul wrote to the church a Corinth, a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote the letter.  On top of that, in bible study we are reading 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, which are also letters Paul wrote to a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote them.

This theme of what does it mean to serve a church and then to step away keeps popping back up to the surface around here.  For all I know, it is a total God thing getting me ready to be away for a little bit, but I also think it is really cool to envision (there’s my star word – vision) what a church can do and be when it is about its people and not necessarily its pastor.

The difference between us and the Corinthians, of course, is that, from the tone of this letter and the fact that Paul says he is hearing reports about conflict and quarrels, it appears that when Paul left Corinth, chaos ensued.  Now, I fully expect – and actually hope – that a certain level of blessed and holy chaos ensues when I go on maternity leave.  But certainly not exactly what was going on in Corinth.  So clearly this is certainly not an even comparison; however I do not think a church has to be actively experiencing turmoil and conflict to benefit from Paul’s words here.

A majority of this particular chapter reads as a defense; a defense of Paul and the people he is in ministry with, who helped him found this church.  The problem is, when Paul founded the church, the Corinthians all looked to him in leadership; but when he left, people still felt like they needed a leader and so they started splitting off into various groups and forming allegiances to different people.

Here, Paul is saying, however, that they are all, in fact, equal in Christ; that he is equal with the other Apostles and with the members of the Corinthian church and that the members of the Corinthian church are all equal with one another.

Paul writes:

So that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.[1]

In other words, we are all on the same team.  This is our church – and we have a shared mission.  We have to work together and view everyone’s role as equally important.

Let’s look at verses 8-13.

It is easy to take these verses out of context.  Paul speaks highly of the Corinthians, calling them kings who are wise and strong and seemingly speaks lowly of himself and the apostles, calling them fools for the sake of Christ who are weak.  If you just read these verses, it might seem like Paul is conceding to the church, but when you look at the tone of the rest of the letter, however, it is apparent, in fact, that Paul is being somewhat tongue and cheek in his writing here.  He is making these sarcastic paradoxes as a way of pointing out to the church that is somewhat ridiculous and not at all productive for the sake of the Gospel to think of yourself as anything other than equal with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because, again, we are all in this together.

And, again, Paul is writing this with love.  He goes on in verse 14 to say, “I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”  He loves this church, he believes in this church and he, too, is envisioning what this church can do and be.

I understand where Paul is coming from because, again, I share these same sentiments.  Our church is in a really exciting place right now.  And, to be quite honest, while this does make the prospect of stepping away for maternity leave a little scarier this time around, it also gives me so much hope when I envision what you all, as a church, are going to accomplish while I am away.

This scripture reminds us that we are all equal partners in our ministry together, which I think is a really important message for us to hear, in our own church, today.  Because whether you have been a part of this church for your entire life or, perhaps, you have only just walked through the doors for the first time today, we are all in this together.  We are all sharing in this ministry together.

And what a beautiful and blessed and holy ministry it is.

The really cool thing about our church is that we have a bottom-up structure; we govern ourselves and the work we do is done by all of us – together.  And so I would encourage you, as we all continue to dream about this new year, to really think about what God is calling you to do in this moment.  Because whether it seems like we, as individuals, are doing something seemingly big or small, significant or insignificant, Paul’s words remind us that we are all doing this together.

There are so many different ways to get involved at the church right now.  Like I said in my epistle note on Friday, don’t feel like you have to get involved in everything!  This is why we have a village.  Know that whatever you are doing, your work matters and you are making a difference in this church.  Remember that together we create the church and that together we are the Body of Christ and that together we will share the Good News of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love to a world that so desperately needs to hear it and that together, we will be servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 4:6, NRSV

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United To Tell This Story

Hi friends!

We started a sermon series on Sunday looking at pieces of 1 Corinthians.  It’s not my ideal – I really love looking at scripture in a linear and continual way – but we have five weeks before the Transfiguration and beginning of Lent and I figured it would be too choppy to get through the whole thing with breaks for Mardi Gras, Palm Sunday, Easter, etc.  So hopefully this will give everyone a flavor!  I say this in my sermon, but I would encourage you to fill in the gaps that we miss so you can read the letter in its entirety over the next five weeks!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 19, 2020

1 Corinthians 1:1-17

United To Tell This Story

One of the things that has been nice, in wandering away from the lectionary over the past two years and settling into longer sermon series in worship, is that we have the opportunity to look at larger pieces of scripture in a continual and linear way.  This not only allows us to see scripture more as a whole, but it really gives us a better context for what we are reading.  We know what type of literature it is, when it was written, who wrote it, who it was being written to, in some cases why it was being written and what the entire book says and not just one isolated passage.

Which brings me to the sermon series we are kicking off today.  The Greatest of These is Love: a look at 1 Corinthians came out of a recurring theme I noticed in 2019 at RCC – love.

Love God.  Love people.

Love wins.

Love each other.

Love.  Love.  Love.

Earlier in the year, during our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark, we read the story of the Greatest Commandment, where the Pharisees ask Jesus what the most important law is and Jesus says to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and then to love your neighbor as yourself.  From there, this call to love – and the practical ways we can live out that call – really leapt to the forefront of our community and our identity as a church.  We lived out this call to love in ways that were both big and small, both inside our community and outside, but all that made a difference in people’s lives.

I started to think about some of the other scripture that talk about love – and, of course, 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient [and] love is kind”) was one of the first I thought about.

Most people have heard this particular scripture read at weddings, though, ironically (and we will talk about this more in a couple of weeks when we look at it), it is not about a couple getting married.  It is, in fact, about a group of people; about a church that Paul founded that was experiencing conflict, that have a hard time being in community together.  When Paul talks about love in that scripture, he is not talking to two individuals in a relationship with one another, he is talking to a church; to a group of people committed to working together to live out their faith and share the Gospel with the world.

And so I thought it would be fun to look at more of this letter than we usually hear read at weddings.  After all, we are a church; we are a group of people committed to working together to live out our faith and share the Gospel with the world.

Is it always easy?  Of course not!  But this is precisely why this scripture speaks to us so poignantly today.

A little bit of housekeeping before I talk about the scripture, itself.  We are not reading the entire letter, we are only looking at five sections.  This is not ideal, because there is stuff we are going to miss.  The problem is, there are 16 chapters in this scripture and, even if we looked at one chapter a week and spent the next four months going through it all, we are going to get interrupted by the Transfiguration, Mardi Gras, Palm Sunday, Easter, etc. and so it made more sense to me to wrap up our discussion before Lent begins so then we can really focus on that.

That being said, I would strongly encourage you to fill in the gaps throughout the week.  The schedule will be printed in the bulletin, so if you get a chance throughout the week, get yourself caught up to where will pick up the following Sunday.  This is more for your own curiosity; if I reference anything we’ve missed from week to week, obviously I will explain what I am talking about.  Reading during the week and filling in the gaps just gives you an accessible way to read scripture and follow along with something we are already doing.

Okay – so let’s talk about 1 Corinthians!

1 Corinthians is in the New Testament; it is a letter (they are called Epistles).  It was written by the Apostle Paul to a church that he founded in the city of Corinth.  Corinth was a large and prospering city; it was very diverse, ethnically, culturally and religiously.  The church, itself, was predominantly Gentile – so this whole narrative was all very new to them and they were not used to Jewish laws and customs.  Paul wrote this letter in response to reports of disputes in the congregation – of people rivaling for control and disagreeing about proper etiquette.

You know … church stuff.

The passage we are looking at this morning is the very beginning of the letter – and Paul does not beat around the bush.  He says in verse 11, “For it has been reported to me … that there are quarrels among you.”  This is essentially his way of saying, “I’ve hear you’ve been spatting and now we’re gonna talk about it.”

The thing that I love so much about this salutation is how clear it is just how much Paul loves this church.  He says in verse 4, “I give thanks to my God always for you.”  This is a church that Paul not only founded, but that he still loves very much.  In fact, this statement almost bears witness to Jesus’ commandment to love God and love people, because he is demonstrating in his leadership what this kind of love looks like.  Despite the fact that he might be frustrated with the church in Corinth because of their behavior, he still loves them and believes in them.

I think this is helpful for us to remember as we read the entire letter; even if we get to a point where Paul might be criticizing the church or calling their behavior into question, he is doing so out of love, not out of anger.

One of the issues Paul addresses here, at the beginning of the letter, is the fact that his apostolic authority is being called into question – that is to say, people are questioning whether or not he is an apostle of Jesus and what, in fact, that means.  Paul responds to these “allegations” by immediately reminding the Corinthians that following Christ does not mean we have to divide our allegiances to people or churches; our allegiance is to Christ.  We are all baptized in Christ’s name and called to proclaim the Gospel, no matter how different we may be or where our faith journeys may take us.

The last verse of this passage is one that I think packs the biggest punch.  Paul writes:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. [1 Corinthians 1:17, NRSV]

So that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

I say this all the time, but it is worth repeating:  The work we do here matters.  This story – this narrative of love and redemption is one that changes people’s lives.  Through Jesus – through his life, death and resurrection – God has given us this gift and this opportunity and it is not one that we should take lightly.

It is important.

It is important, not only that we live out our own faith, but also that we share this faith with others so that their lives might be changed, so that the world might be made whole again.

Are we all always going to agree on what this looks like or how it should be done?  Of course not.  But, like Paul says in verse 10, we are united in the same mind and purpose.

We are united in Christ.

The beginning of this letter kind of reads like a sports pep talk that a coach might give his team when they are down.  Because the game is not over, right?  And, in this case, the story of the church in Corinth is not over yet, either.  Christ’s story – a story of love and redemption – is not over yet.  It is still being written.  It is still being written by the Corinthians Paul is writing to.

And it is still being written by us, today, as we seek to do the hard work that is required to nurture our community of faith and share the Gospel.

So think about this scripture as a pep talk to us – as we stand at the dawn of a new year, inspired by this theme of love that permeated our identity last year.  Remember that, just like the church in Corinth, we, too, are loved and cherished.  We are not perfect, but we are united.  We are united because we believe that Jesus’ story is one that is still worth telling, we believe that it is a story that can and will change lives, starting with our own.  We are united because we are the Body of Christ, the church in the village.  We are united because we have seen the tangible expression of love lived out in this community and we know the difference it can make.  We are united because we are ready for the new year, ready to listen to God calling us to do church and to share the Good News with a world that so desperately needs to hear it.  We are united because, like Paul says in verse 9, “God is faithful; by him [we are] called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul says that he gives thanks to God for the church in Corinth.  Today I offer this same sentiment – I give thanks to God for you, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ – the church in the village.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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How Can We Serve Others?

Hi friends!  It has been almost a month since my last sermon.  I didn’t realize I would be away from the pulpit from that long, but since I was away for two weeks and then came back to Beatles Sunday, it ended up being almost a month without a sermon.

We are still in our six-week sermon series on hospitality.  The topic of discussion this week was:  How do we serve others?

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 25, 2019

1 Peter 4:7-11
Luke 10:38-42
Matthew 25:31-40

How Can We Serve Others?

Back in the spring, I tried to get the church to march in the Memorial Day Parade in Rehoboth.

It did not go very well.

I think five people signed up.

Refusing to admit defeat, I changed my plans and decided that, as a community, we were just going to hang out on the front lawn of the church.  We were going to ring the bells when we saw the lead police car come over the hill, open our doors so people could use the restroom or just seek shelter for the sun and we were going to cheer on the parade from the sidelines.  After all, what is a parade without spectators?

Missi Wells reached out when she heard about my plan and organized a lemonade and cookies stand.  The response was incredible.  We filled tables on the side of the road with two different kinds of lemonade and countless plates of cookies.  And as the smell of sugar started to waft out into the crowd, people’s interest was piqued and they started to wander over.

We did not charge for anything that morning; in fact, we did not even put out a donation jar.  And it’s not that I don’t like to raise money or anything (y’all know that’s not true), it’s just that this was something Missi and I wanted to for the community, simply as an act of service.

And I have to say – it was the coolest thing ever.

Because it was like communion.

There was this moment towards the end of the parade when the Fire Department was coming through.  Engine 3 had stopped in front of the church; Jeff Rutko was driving, Zack was sitting shotgun and there was a group of guys in the back seat. Missy Enos ran over to the truck with and entire tray of lemonade and handed it to Jeff through the window.  He grabbed a cup and passed the tray around and everyone took a cup when it came to them.

And I swear to you, it looked exactly like it does on the first Sunday of the month when the Deacons are passing around those trays of juice.

It was in that moment that I knew it was the right decision not to charge a penny for that lemonade; because this was an act of service that felt like worship.  It was a moment where we were able to walk outside the walls of our church building and show the community what it means for us to live out the Gospel. It was hospitality on a level that I could not have planned.

Okay – so.

Hospitality.

We have looked at the why:  Why is it important to talk about hospitality?  Why are names so important?

Then we looked at the what:  What does it mean when we say that all are welcome? What does it look like to welcome children?

Now we are going to look at the how: Today we will ask ourselves, how can we serve others?  And, to close out this series, next week we will ask the question, how can we create a space where people feel welcome?

How can we serve others?

I chose three texts to look at in order to address this question.  The first comes from the first letter of the Apostle Peter.  Peter, of course, we know from the Gospels.  He was also referred to as Simon; Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen and they were the first two disciples that Jesus called. Peter was one of the members of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples; that Jesus brought with him to the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and to pray with him in Gethsemane.

Peter was the disciple that denied Jesus three times, but later in his apostolic ministry was one of the key leaders in the early church.  Although the details of his death are not recorded in scripture, most scholars agree that Peter was crucified.

There are two letters of Peter in the New Testament, likely pseudonymous and written in the 80’s after his death.  These letters were addressed to Christians who were suffering for their faith and so Peter (or someone writing under Peter’s name) was talking not only what it means to be strong in your faith, but to build a strong community of faith.

Because, like we have talked about, as a community, we are more than simply just the sum of our parts.  We need one another – in good times and in bad times. Peter says in this letter that love and hospitality towards one another lays a strong foundation to build a community that can glorify God and spread the Gospel.

Our second reading comes from the Gospel according to Luke, the story of Mary and Martha.  Mary and Martha appear several times in the different Gospels.  In the Gospel of John, Mary and Martha are identified as Lazarus’ sisters; Lazarus is the man who was presumed dead for several days, but who came to life.  And Mary is also the woman who anoints Jesus feet with expensive perfume.  When we read that story in the Gospel of Mark, the woman was not named, but when it is told in the Gospel of John, she is identified as Mary.  Coincidentally (and in keeping with the dynamic of this story), while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, Martha served everybody else.

This story always brings up a fascinating discussion about what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Are we meant to sit and learn or are we meant to stand up and serve others?  Jesus does not necessarily give us a clear answer.

Our final reading comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; Jesus was teaching his disciples.  They were already in Jerusalem and Jesus had foretold the destruction of the temple.  The end was near; as soon as Jesus finished speaking these words, the plot to kill him begins.  And so what this means is that his final lesson to his disciples before the Passion Narrative begins is about serving others; feeding them when they are hungry, giving them something to drink when they are thirsty, welcoming them when they are a stranger, clothing them when they are naked, taking care of them when they are sick and visiting them when they are in prison.

Jesus’ words in this discourse help us step back and, again, answer the question of, why?  Why is it important that we serve others?  Jesus says because when we serve others, it is as if we are serving Jesus, himself. Jesus says that when we serve others we are doing so in Jesus’ name, because this is what the Gospel teaches us, because this is what it looks like to put our faith in action.  Jesus says that when we serve others, like the Apostle Peter later writes, we are doing so to glorify God and to show an outward expression of the love that we maintain for one another.

In other words, the way we live our lives matters. It is not enough to come to church and proclaim our beliefs, but we have to live out these beliefs as well. The Body of Christ only works if we are all on the same team, helping one another, championing one another, picking one another up when we fall.  As human beings living in this human world, serving other human beings is the conduit in which we serve God.

So that begs the questions of, how?

This might be one of those “easier said than done” scenarios, but I also think that the story of Mary and Martha teaches us that there is no one way to serve others.  Here in this story you have two sisters that take vastly different approaches to welcoming Jesus into their house:  Martha is concerned with “many tasks” – likely cooking and cleaning – and Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to learn.  When Martha shows frustration that Mary is not helping her, Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and distracted by many things and that there is need of only one thing, which Mary is doing.

But I don’t think Jesus is necessarily downplaying the role that Martha is playing; I think he is simply saying that there are many ways to serve others and that we cannot do it all.  This story needs both Mary and Martha.  This world, the Body of Christ, needs both Marys and Marthas to come together and glorify God in their service to others.

Sometimes this means handing out lemonade at parades and refusing to take a dime.  Sometimes this means bringing someone a meal.  Sometimes this means giving someone a ride or just stopping by for a visit.  Sometimes this means letting someone know that you are praying for them.  Sometimes this means lending a hand at a funeral.  Sometimes this means volunteering your time with our youth group, church school or nursery programs.  Sometimes this means celebrating a joyous time in someone’s life and also supporting them through a hard time.  Sometimes this means saying hello to someone who walked through the doors of our church for the first time or sitting down next to someone who is sitting alone.  Sometimes this means hopping on a committee at church or signing up to help out with something.  Sometimes this means volunteering at one of the TACT breakfasts that Missions hosts or donating to one of their collections throughout the years.  Sometimes this means, like Peter points out, serving others with the gifts that we have been given – perhaps offering legal counsel to someone if you are a lawyer, fixing a leak in someone’s house if you are a plumber or tutoring someone if you are a teacher.  As a church, sometimes this means running a fundraiser to support a specific cause or making our building available to someone who is struggling financially at a low or no cost.

This question of how we serve others ongoing and ever-changing.  It is one that I do not ever think we will come up with the “right” answer for, because what it “right” in one moment might change in the next.

But I know one thing for sure:  Our community cares about loving one another.  Our community wants to serve one another and serve others.  And so I invite us all to prayerfully discern how call is calling us to serve in this moment. And may we all be open to the ways God is present in our lives as we seek to glorify God through service to others.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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